The notion of Roy Hibbert securing permission from FIBA to represent the United States in international competition is no longer seen by interested observers as an outright impossibility.
Yet the consistent word in USA Basketball circles remains that Hibbert is a long shot to ultimately receive the needed clearance to make him eligible for the Team USA squad that will compete in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain or the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
And here's why:
Turns out there is a little-known FIBA bylaw that allows for Hibbert, through USA Basketball, to apply for permission to play for Team USA after appearing in one game for Jamaica in 2010 ... despite the fact that it's been drilled into us all for years that players who represent one country at senior level internationally do so knowing they are essentially ineligible to switch allegiances and play for another country later.
The little-known rule states that a player who has represented one country after the age of 17 may "exceptionally request" that FIBA allow him to play for another country's national team if that national team is "of the player's country of origin" and if the request is deemed to be "in the interest of the development of basketball in that country."
While Hibbert satisfies half of those requirements, having been born a New Yorker, I'm told USAB's pessimism stems from the fact that it would be a gargantuan stretch to convince FIBA that adding the Indiana Pacers' All-Star center to Mike Krzyzewski's roster would have even a sliver of impact on the state of the game in this country.
(The inverse, incidentally, is true in the case of New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire, who has been wooed by the heavyweight likes of former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres to join Israel's national team after Amar'e unexpectedly applied for Israeli citizenship over the summer and with his USA Basketball career clearly over. Stoudemire could undoubtedly satisfy the second of the above requirements, since he'd surely spark tons of fresh interest in basketball in Israel if he made that move, but there's no getting around the fact that Amar'e was born in Florida.)
As for Hibbert ...
The real shame here is that the Jamaican Basketball Association appears to now support Hibbert's hopes of swaying FIBA, which the Indy big man addressed this week in an interview with Pacers.com . In two late-July tweets, one Jamaican official said that his federation -- grateful Hibbert played for them in one major tournament at Centro Basket in 2010 -- has "always been willing to let Roy go" and "will never hinder his desires."
Yet it appears that Hibbert's only shot, in a process FIBA says must be initiated by USA Basketball, is convincing the sport's international governing body that the prospect of switching from Team Jamaica to Team USA would have some sort of far-reaching domestic impact beyond merely making Coach K's talent pool deeper. Hibbert told Pacers.com that "there has been some dialogue" and that "international lawyers" are working on his behalf, but the vibe still emanating from USAB -- as it was in July when Coach K had nearly 30 of Hibbert's peers convened in Las Vegas for a mini-camp -- continues to be pessimistic when it comes to ever seeing Hibbert in red, white and blue.
The solace for Krzyzewski and Team USA chief Jerry Colangelo is that, with or without Hibbert, they should have many more big men to choose from for the next two major events, after Tyson Chandler ranked as the only recognized center on Team USA's roster for the 2012 Olympics in London following the injury withdrawals of Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh.
In the Vegas mini-camp, Team USA had no less than seven invitees who could be classified as centers auditioning for the right to join a frontcourt rotation that we already know will feature Minnesota's Kevin Love. Anthony Davis (New Orleans), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), Derrick Favors (Utah), DeAndre Jordan (L.A. Clippers), Larry Sanders (Milwaukee) and the Detroit duo of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe were all in attendance, along with big forwards Ryan Anderson (New Orleans) and Kenneth Faried (Denver).